Gagging orders on NHS whistleblowers to be banned

Zamira Rahim
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Gagging orders on NHS whistleblowers to be banned

The health secretary has pledged to end the use of gagging orders which currently prevent would-be NHS whistleblowers from speaking out.

“We stand with whistleblowers,” Matt Hancock said.

“Making someone choose between the job they love and speaking the truth to keep patients safe is an injustice I am determined to end.”

The minister criticised the use of the non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) against employees who speak out as “completely inappropriate”, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

“Whistleblowers perform a vital and courageous service for the NHS and I want more people to feel they can put their head above the parapet,” he said.

Figures published in 2018 showed that hundreds of whistleblowers had suffered repercussions after speaking out.

Some 356 NHS whilstleblowrs in 2017-18 said they had experienced a range of reactions, varying from “subtle” punishments, such as being denied career opportunities, to being unjustly fired.

In 2018 MPs and campaigners called on the government to overhaul whistleblowing laws.

Among the worst affected staff members are NHS doctors, many of whom have been fired for speaking out about malpractice such as bullying, faulty medical equipment and unsafe staffing levels.

The calls for reform came in the wake of deaths at Gosport War Memorial hospital, where at least 456 patients were killed by lethal doses of opiate painkillers given “without medical justification”.

The government has since drawn up draft plans for a new NHS whistleblowing service, called the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB), which would investigate cases of compromised patient safety.

Mr Hancock‘s latest comments follow growing concern about the use of such agreements to silence staff across a range of sectors.

They also come after Sue Allison, a radiographer, successfully argued that she had been forced to sign an NDA without adequate legal advice.

An employment tribunal declared her NDA was invalid and that Ms Allison could continue with her claim against her former employer, the Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

She alleged that she was bullied at work after raising doubts about breast cancer screening standards, according to The Telegraph.

It also emerged last week that universities had spent nearly £90 million on pay-offs with so-called gagging orders attached over the last two years.

In March the Government announced toughened legal measures to prevent employers using confidentiality agreements to stop workers from reporting crimes, harassment or discrimination.

Whistleblowers UK, an organisation that claims to support people speaking out at work, called on Twitter for gagging orders to be banned.

“[They have] been used by unscrupulous employers & their lawyers to exploit and silence decent people,” the organisation said.

Additional reporting by agencies